Letter: The Open Meeting Law in 1987 and 2020

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Letter to the Editor:

The Open Meeting Law (OML) enables the public to see and hear the workings and deliberations of local government.  

Recently some have questioned the Reading Select Board’s adherence to the OML: the possibility of members communicating during a meeting electronically ( texting, emailing, instant messaging) through private cell and email addresses, among themselves or receiving information from nonmembers outside the knowledge of those observing the meeting. The Open Government Division of the Attorney General’s office suggests that these communications should be included in an accurate representation in their minutes of what occurs during the meeting and that a recording does not supplant the obligation that minutes contain accurate summaries of the discussions.  

As technology evolves, the application of the Open Meeting Law has also changed (ie the Attorney General now oversees OML) but basic principles of Open Meeting Law remain. Looking to the past may be helpful. 

In the 1980s, the Reading School Committee failed to follow several requirements of the Open Meeting Law: timely release of accurate minutes, subcommittees, Superintendent evaluations, meeting locations inaccessible to the public, inadequate postings, inappropriate executive sessions. Concerned by these practices, a group of parent volunteers (Joe Sarcone, Al Scott, Aram Boornazian, Bruce Cooper, and myself) put School Committee Meetings on local Continental cable TV. Reading Community Television (RCTV) did not exist back then.  

In November 1987, Middlesex Assist. District Attorney Michael Fabbri conducted an OML “Road Show” with the Reading School Committee. At that time, School Board members were Clifford Allan, Carol Lyons, Stan Nissen, Dick Coco, and Barbara Philbrick. The School Superintendent was Robert Munnelly with Lynn Bak his Assistant. The first and third hour of the meeting involved Fabbri’s OML presentation, (suspended for 45 minutes of School Improvement Council grant discussion) and the last hour included the Evaluation of the Superintendent. Much of this meeting remains relevant to the challenges we face today.

RCTV is now running this 1987 OML Road Show School Committee Meeting on its public channels (Comcast 9, Verizon 31) during the following times:  

This 1987 “Road Show” School Committee meeting also is available on the RCTV YouTube site: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EoXtZTsi7sY

It is time for another OML training session in Reading, perhaps a joint presentation with the Attorney General and the Supervisor of Public Records. Considering the impact of new technology on the public’s right to know, it may be time for new legislation to clarify the scope and reasons for the Open Meeting Law.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” even in these troubled times…

Kendra Cooper, Esq. 
Town Meeting Member Precinct 8

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